American Science Policy since World War II

Brookings Institution Press
3
Free sample

Just after the close of World War II, America's political and scientific leaders reached an informal consensus on how science could best serve the nation and how government might best support science. The consensus lasted a generation before it broke under the pressures created by the Vietnam War. Since then the nation has struggled to reestablish shared beliefs about the means and goals of science policy. In American Science Policy Since World War II, author Bruce L. R. Smith makes sense of the break between science and government and identifies the patterns on postwar science affairs. He explains that what might otherwise seem to be a miscellaneous set of separate episodes actually constituted a continuing debate of national importance that was closely linked to broad political and economic trends. Smith's precise and unique analysis gives both the scholar and historian a better understanding of where we are and how we got there while casting a modest light on future policy directions.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Feb 1, 2011
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780815705475
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Development / Economic Development
Political Science / Public Policy / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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America's governing system is unique in the extent to which scientists and other outside experts participate in the policy process. This wide-ranging study traces the rise of scientists in the policy process and shows how outside experts interrelate with politicians and administrators to produce a unique and dynamic policy process. It also shows how the very openness of American government creates the potential for unusual conflicts of interest.

Bruce L. R. Smith focuses on the experiences of agency and presidential-level advisory systems over the past several decades. He chronicles the special complexities and challenges resulting from the Federal Advisory Committee Act-the "open meeting" law-to provide a better understanding of the role of advisory committees and offers valuable lessons to guide their future use. He looks at science advice in the Departments of Defense, State, and Energy; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the Environmental Protection Agency; and then examines how science advisory mechanisms have worked at the White House.

Rather than simply providing a description of structures and institutions, Smith shows the advisory systems in action—how advisory systems work or fail to work in practice. He analyzes how the advisers influence the policymaking process and affect the life of the agencies they serve.

Smith concludes with an assessment of the relationship between science advice and American democracy. He explains that the widespread use of outside advisers clearly reflects America's preference for pluralism. By scrutinizing agency plans, goals, and operations, advisers and advisory committees serve a variety of functions and attempt to strike a balance between openness and citizen access to government and the need for discipline and sophisticated expertise in policymaking. At the root of the advisory process is a paradox: scientists are called on because of their special expertise, but they are useful only if they learn to play by the rules of the political game. The Challenge to the nation is to reconcile the integrity of science with the norms of democracy.

Over fifty years ago, Vannevar Bush released his enormously influential report, Science, the Endless Frontier, which asserted a dichotomy between basic and applied science. This view was at the core of the compact between government and science that led to the golden age of scientific research after World War II—a compact that is currently under severe stress. In this book, Donald Stokes challenges Bush's view and maintains that we can only rebuild the relationship between government and the scientific community when we understand what is wrong with that view.

Stokes begins with an analysis of the goals of understanding and use in scientific research. He recasts the widely accepted view of the tension between understanding and use, citing as a model case the fundamental yet use-inspired studies by which Louis Pasteur laid the foundations of microbiology a century ago. Pasteur worked in the era of the "second industrial revolution," when the relationship between basic science and technological change assumed its modern form. Over subsequent decades, technology has been increasingly science-based. But science has been increasingly technology-based--with the choice of problems and the conduct of research often inspired by societal needs. An example is the work of the quantum-effects physicists who are probing the phenomena revealed by the miniaturization of semiconductors from the time of the transistor's discovery after World War II.

On this revised, interactive view of science and technology, Stokes builds a convincing case that by recognizing the importance of use-inspired basic research we can frame a new compact between science and government. His conclusions have major implications for both the scientific and policy communities and will be of great interest to those in the broader public who are troubled by the current role of basic science in American democracy.

The United States faces a new challenge--maintaining the vitality of its system for supporting science and technology despite fiscal stringency during the next several years. To address this change, the Senate Appropriations Committee requested a report from the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and the Institute of Medicine to address "the criteria that should be used in judging the appropriate allocation of funds to research and development activities; to examine the appropriate balance among different types of institutions that conduct such research; and to look at the means of assuring continued objectivity in the allocation process." In this eagerly-awaited book, a committee of experts selected by the National Academies and the Institute responds with 13 recommendations that propose a new budgeting process and formulates a series of questions to address during that process. The committee also makes corollary recommendations about merit review, government oversight, linking research and development to government missions, the synergy between research and education, and other topics. The recommendations are aimed at rooting out obsolete and inadequate activities to free resources from good programs for even better ones, in the belief that "science and technology will be at least as important in the future as they have been in the past in dealing with problems that confront the nation." The authoring committee of this book was chaired by Frank Press, former President of the National Academy of Sciences (1981-1993) and Presidential Science and Technology Advisor (1977-1981).

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